Tag Archives: self improvement

Escaping from the Prison of Anxiety

There is just one thing that stands in the way of courage, and that is anxiety. If we could somehow manage our anxiety we could stop the way it holds us back. Clearly, this is not going to be quick, it is going to take effort and determination. It is possible to break through.

I have probably mentioned before that fear is built into the human brain. It is the most important response in survival terms and therefore the first thing to get triggered if there is any hint of danger, however slight. This is not going away, it is part of being human so our anxiety will continue to be triggered. But don’t lose hope yet.

You don’t need me to tell you that life these days is hectic. We are constantly stimulated and distracted, so we delegate a lot to our subconscious. We have to in order to cope with all the information we have to process. But by doing this we allow our barely conscious feelings of anxiety to guide our behaviour. When we feel the beginnings of our anxiety stirring, we cope by not doing, not going, not speaking. The feelings subside and normality is resumed. Over time, our anxiety increasingly limits our behaviour until it becomes a prison.

To gain mastery over anxiety we have to face it.

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling, not painful exactly, but unpleasant. It might be experienced as a gnawing sensation in the pit of the stomach, or a pounding of the heart, a feeling of heat, a feeling of disorganized energy, a feeling of fragmentation. Our muscles tighten and our breathing becomes shallow as we prepare for fight or flight. We might visibly flush, sweat or shake, which only compounds our discomfort, knowing that others can see how anxious we are feeling. Our thoughts become disorganized and we fixate on negative outcomes, tapping into our underlying fears of failure, ridicule and rejection

When we start to face anxiety and really understand what it feels like we are able to recognize its beginning. We can counter anxiety at a physical level if we catch it early. This means being more tuned into our physical state, turning our senses inwards instead of being always outwards.

We learn our early warning signs of anxiety being triggered, and consciously do the opposite. We consciously relax our muscles and deepen our breathing. Calm the scattered energy by imagining it coming together and taking it down lower, into the abdomen or base of the spine and in doing so feel more grounded. Gain control of the negative spiral of thoughts by reminding yourself that the negative thoughts that spring from anxiety are not rational and are rarely true.

Feel the edge, stay there, hold it, breathe. Realise that anxiety is a feeling, an experience and is a necessary part of being alive, just like all the other various feelings and experiences, good and bad. Gently and quietly pass through those prison walls.

As you ground yourself, become more centred and together, your anxiety loses its power to hold you back. You still feel the symptoms but you are back in control. You can now choose how you want to act.

As you practice you get better and better at controlling your anxiety. In doing so you become more clear, more courageous and you become free.





The Opposite of Courage is Apathy

I believe that the opposite of courage is not fear or cowardice, but apathy. We might think that the opposite of courage is fear, as though courage is a state of fearlessness, but courage exists in the presence of fear and courageous acts are conducted in spite of fear.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”  Nelson Mandela

Courage is always a decision to overcome a tempting, easier option, in order to do what we believe is right. The easier option is usually to do nothing.

We can become very good at doing nothing. My use of the term nothing, means nothing positive, nothing that leads to growth of oneself or others. It means not learning, not looking after your health, not looking for ways to help family, friends or community, not being creative, not taking a stand, not developing and not using our talents to make a positive difference.

It means choosing comfort, security and ease instead. When we choose comfort, security and ease we are effectively choosing nothing, since we are making no contribution to life, neither our own nor the world around us.

The more nothing we do the better we get at it.

We choose comfort eating and TV watching instead of activity, healthy choices and learning. We choose to look after our own comfort instead of making the effort to help others. We choose to keep quiet when we see something is not right. We choose what is easy and after a while we are so used to doing nothing we don’t bother to consider any other option. We simply can’t be bothered. We say yes to nothing and no to life.

Courage requires us to reverse this habit, to push ourselves out of apathy, to make an effort, to say yes, to try, to contribute and to live.

“This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure”. Winston Churchill


Paradoxically, in some instances it is the courageous thing to do nothing. Occasionally, to help the growth of someone we care about, we have to hold back when our impulse is to rescue them.

Being Like Water


Most of the time we are very conscious of our boundaries, our individuality and separateness.

This means that we tend to approach life from a position of defence. We defend our personal boundaries, both physical and emotional. We extend our boundaries to include our loved ones and our possessions and we defend those too. We may defend our thoughts, our rights and our views. We become quite rigid.

When we take a position of defence we forget our similarities and we concentrate on our difference, our uniqueness. We bolster our difference with stories about who we are so that we can be sure to stand uniquely and separately in our own space. Our focus in life is to become more defined, and to become bigger by acquiring more friends, more talents, more possessions. Our society defines success according to wealth and discernment so it is no wonder that this is the story that we accept and believe to be true.

So let’s challenge that view and see where it takes us. What happens when we soften our boundaries?

If we relax our grip on being ourselves do we lose? Do we lose our personality, our meaning, our purpose and our place? Or do we gain? If we relax our boundaries and hold ourselves more lightly, could we gain a sense of peace, of connectedness with the world? If we see ourselves more as part of the world, and less separate could we feel more at home?  Do we have the courage to try?

Taking this idea one step further, if we become fluid, like water, we can flow around obstacles, which previously we had to confront or avoid. We become more open and can take in new thinking, new experiences, new learning and growth.  We can work alongside people when our boundaries merge and we focus on what we have in common. Instead of competing, we can be like water and simply move to where there is space.


Water is one of the elemental forces of nature. Water can not only flow with ease, but can cut a course through the hardest rock over time.

Self Worth is the Foundation of Courage

Unless you have a sense of self worth you cannot live courageously.  An inner self belief is the foundation that is required to build courage upon. When you are not sure of yourself you will falter when the going gets tough. When you don’t trust your instincts you will look around to see what others expect of you. When you haven’t taken the time to build up your beliefs in what is right and what is wrong you cannot act with any conviction. When you haven’t spent the time with yourself, learnt to accept what you see and finally come to like yourself, you will always hide. You will hide from yourself, avoid looking, distract yourself and you will hide from others. Because you are afraid that what is there is inadequate, deficient, unlikeable.

We are trapped until we take the time to get to know ourselves and accept ourselves for who we are, until we fully accept ourselves with all our strengths and our faults and imperfections. In doing this we gradually learn to care less about what other people think, and care more about what we think. We are able to act according to what we believe to be right. We become less eager to please others and more eager to please ourselves.   We can open up when we are not craving approval. Other people can take us or leave us. Not everyone will like us. And when we are no longer afraid of who we might be, are no longer ashamed of ourselves, then we don’t have to hide and we become free.

Future blog posts will address why a sense of self-worth is so lacking in our society, so difficult to acquire and what we can do to build ourselves a solid foundation for a courageous and whole hearted life.

It takes Courage to be Free

Many people complain about their lives. They are unsatisfied with their jobs, with their relationships, with the place they live. They feel that their life is dull. It seems odd when we think about it. We know that they have the freedom to choose.

We all have the freedom to choose.

Every part of our lives, both the big decisions and the everyday acts present us with choice. For the most part we carry on as we did yesterday and the day before, and the month and the year before. We live a life that is expected of us.  We live as though we are in a prison made of our habits and our fear.

We are afraid of our freedom.

To accept that we are free to choose means taking responsibility for ourselves, for our lives, and for the unknown consequences of our decisions.

But how else are we to live? How else can we be fully alive if we don’t take this responsibility?

Take the chance. Tear down the prison walls. Make the changes that you yearn for. Take a leap of faith in yourself, that you can create your life, rather than just letting it happen.

Have courage and choose freedom.

The Two Words that Shape our Lives

The path of our life is dictated by what we say yes to and what we say no to. Our lives are shaped by what we accept into our life and what we turn down. Opportunities, activities, people and experiences come our way and the decisions we take have a critical influence on how the rest of our life unfolds.

However, we sometimes find that we get into a habit of saying yes, or of saying no.

Some people say yes to pretty much every request that comes their way. Their difficulty in saying no can be so extreme that they exhaust themselves to the point of burnout before realising that something is going wrong. Life is finite. Time is finite. Every time we say yes to something we are saying no to something else. People who say ‘yes’ too much are saying ‘no’ to themselves, to their needs and wants.

There are other people whose primary orientation is to say ‘no’. They say no to new opportunities, to new people, to change, to risk. It’s as if saying no keeps them safe, keeps them safe from challenge, from demands, from failure, from rejection. Change comes to everyone, it is an intrinsic part of life. The more we try to control this, the less prepared we are when it comes. By saying no we keep ourselves in our comfort zone, and we find that our comfort zone shrinks, until we fear our own shadow.

Either way, when things are out of balance like this, there are disastrous consequences for our quality of life. Given the vital importance of choosing what we say yes to and what we say no to, it is important to gain control over our decisions and choose wisely.

So what should we say yes to and what should we say no to? How are we to know what is right? The truth is that we can’t know how our decisions will turn out. But this doesn’t let us off. I believe that putting our lives in the hands of fate is an excuse. We have to take the responsibility of taking our life seriously.

We cannot know the consequences but we can still consider what we think will lead to the best outcome. What will give us pleasure and/or help us grow? What will take us out of our comfort zone so that we might grow and learn? What will give others pleasure and/or help them grow? What are the risks involved? Which of these considerations is most important right now?

We can also tune into our intuition. Taking a moment to check in with ourself, with how we feel if we are to say yes, and how we feel if we are to say no may give us the clear answer we need.

With practice, we can bring more of our decisions under conscious control, and so our lives become more deliberate, more self-governing, more our own.



The Reality Check

In my studies of psychology literature there is a constant theme.  The path to psychological well-being is a process of increasing self-awareness, whether that is a private journey or assisted by a therapist or coach.

As we start to reflect on our thoughts, feelings and behaviour, we start to see patterns that come automatically to us, that we haven’t noticed before.  We start to see the impact of these patterns on ourselves, our lives and on others.  They may be helpful or detrimental but as long as we remain unaware, they are always limiting.  Raising awareness means that we have to make choices.

If we continue this process of increasing awareness and choice, we will see more and more of our patterns, bring them into question, and choose to keep or discard them.  This ongoing process removes our biases, and allows us to see the world with greater and greater clarity.  When we remove our blinkers and distortions we are better able to see the world as it really is, and see ourselves as we really are.

As we face ourselves we gradually let go of our rigid thinking and defenses, and so we have more of our intelligence available to us.  We raise our ability to think critically and creatively about the situations we find ourselves in.  We become more flexible and appropriate in our responses.

The process of self-reflection releases us towards a healthier, more satisfying life.

Working with a therapist or psychologically trained coach speeds up the process considerably, as they can see our blind spots more clearly and lead us towards awareness, and support us through change.

In Praise of the Long Fix

I don’t suppose this is going to be a popular idea but I am writing today in support of the long fix.  We live in a world that promises quick fixes, crash diets, self-help books that will change your life, management training courses and so on.  Now I am not arguing against the principle of ‘least pain, most gain’.  I am questioning whether much of this actually works at all.

To put this into context, I am talking about improvement, which is by definition making a change for the better.  Something has to change and stay changed.  And I am talking about changes we make to our lives rather than, say, our plumbing system.

We surely know by now that if we go on the latest diet, and then afterwards return to our normal way of eating, the weight will sure enough pile back on.  Nothing will change.  And so it is with the rest of our life.  If we read the book, go on the course, make the promise, but don’t permanently change the way we think and act we will stay just the same.  We have to attend to and maintain this attention on whatever it is we want to change.  It will eventually become a habit but until it does we have to make an effort to maintain a new discipline.

Let’s consider an example.

I have struggled with poor self-belief for a very long time.  I gradually became aware of a number of thoughts that would rush in whenever I was faced with a challenge, and were actually running in the background most of the time.  They were vicious thoughts such as ‘you always were lazy’ and ‘you are doomed to failure’. It was hard to take any kind of risk while this was going on in my head.  So, I paid attention to my own thinking, and when I started to feel wobbly, scared, when my excuses started rearing up, I listened out for those bullying negative thoughts, and told them to go away.  I turned my attention away.  And I did it again, and again and again.  It took about 6 months.  At last I now seem to have retrained my mind.  I haven’t heard them for months, and I can get on with the life I want, with the work that I believe will make a difference.

If you really want to make a lasting change, resist the lure of the quick fix and knuckle down, be determined and head for the long fix.  It will change your life.